Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mark Driscoll on Nightline

Outside of an "in house debate" on a couple points of Calvinist theology, I really appreciate a person like Driscoll who is willing to stand up for the essentials of the Gospel in a world designed to attack those very people.

Here is the video - good little segment.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

One of the best compliments I can pay a book is that it sticks with me and comes to mind often as I interact with life. Reading Fame Junkies was sometimes disturbing, always revealing, and it has stuck with me. I am not a fan of pop culture to begin with. I have the same problems with it many people do: the rampant consumerism, the inherent shallowness of it all, the oversimplification of necessarily deep concepts, and the outright narcissism. But this book helped me see it all on another level.

The book is split into three basic “takes” on the culture of fame, each of which is full of enlightening interviews, anecdotes, studies, and commentary. It is hard to say I was impressed by one part more than the others, but I continue to think through the act of giving up a “normal” life and career to become an assistant to a star. Halpern does a great job of telling some of those stories and allowing the reader to hear from their own mouths why assistants do what they do.

I have since quit watching any form of celebrity TV. I used to unwind from time to time with a little Leno or Letterman, but now all I see is narcissism. And not just on the part of the “stars” – it is the cash currency of the world of fame. If self-absorption disappeared and humility reigned, well, things would be different for the world of TV, print, and movie media.

In that vein, Fame Junkies is a modern tale of the consequences of meaninglessness and vice. The people represented in the book are nice and normal people (for the most part), and they are presented fairly by Halpern, but theirs are cautionary tales. Because their lives seem to lack any over-arching meaning, they seek for it through the fleeting attention paid to them by others. Or in other cases, they live their lives vicariously through the famous.

These are among the morality tales of our culture. Read them and learn.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Worldviews Have Consequences

In what is sure to be the beginning of a slew of Executive Orders and legislative initiatives with profound cultural implications, over the weekend the Mexico City Policy was reversed. During his presidency, Reagan instituted a polity whereby any foreign or international organization asking for U.S. funds could not provide or promote abortion services. The language of the current executive order contains no language about supporting abortion policy across the globe, but it doesn’t take much to understand what the vocabulary means and what the consequences are likely to be. Much of the vocabulary that supports the murder of children around the globe reads like this:

It is clear that the provisions of the Mexico City Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.

“Family planning” in these contexts includes, and is sometimes exclusively, abortion. And how is abortion “economic development”?

In addition, I look forward to working with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N. Population Fund. By resuming funding to UNFPA, the U.S. will be joining 180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.

If we can keep the poorest around the world from having too many babies, so the logic goes, they will be wealthier. Putting the “logic” aside, we need to recognize these kinds of policies for what they are – eugenics. Eugenics is the practice of deciding who is fit to be born, live, and die. Usually it is repellant to us. But if it is couched in terms of “empowering women,” “global economic development,” and “improv[ing] the health of women and children,” who can object? What reversing the Mexico City Policy does is allow U.S. funds to be used in reducing the populations of the poorest around the globe. Apparently, if there were less of them, “global economic development” would proceed less hindered and the rest of us would be better off.

A proper Christian reaction to poverty does not – never does – include abortion. Saying that poverty is a complex and possibly insurmountable issue is an understatement. But for the Christian, it is an opportunity to give and to do. Christian churches among the poorest populations around the globe do the most good. Pentecostal churches in central Africa, for example, not only educate their city’s children, but they run effective and poverty reducing health clinics.

When Paul was commissioned by the apostles in Jerusalem, he was encouraged to remember the poor, which thing he was eager to do (Gal. 2:10). Paul then writes often to churches about the collection he will receive from them, and thanks them on behalf of the others who received their last contributions and gifts. Paul’s actions are our guides. We give what we can and we do when we can, but we never reduce the populations of people holding us back.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Near Future of Bioethics

The future of bioethical policy is an important issue. What will become of frozen embryos? What will our government fund when it comes to the creation, cloning, and destruction of human embryos? How fungible is human nature, and is it subject to almost limitless experimentation? These and so many other (even seemingly outlandish questions) are up for grabs with a change in the White House.

The President’s Council on Bioethics was a diverse group of very well informed and respected people who hashed out several conclusions which were not exactly received with praise in the legacy media. In fact, it seems the legacy media crowd even did their math wrong and based many of their criticisms on their faulty conclusions. A former member, Robert George, reflects on the Council and the media’s typical perception of it:

In 2002, when George W. Bush announced the names of his appointees to the President’s Council on Bioethics, there were liberal bioethicists who complained that the President had “stacked” the council with “religious conservatives” who shared his views on questions of embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic cloning.” More than a few media outlets reported this claim as if it were a fact. It was, however, a spectacular falsehood.

And further:

The Bush council included six members (Michael Sandel, Janet Rowley, William F. May, James Q. Wilson, Michael Gazzaniga, and Elizabeth Blackburn) who favored the production of human embryos for biomedical research in which they would be destroyed in the effort to obtain pluripotent stem cells. At least three additional members (Paul McHugh, Rebecca Dresser, and Francis Fukuyama) were not in principle opposed to “therapeutic cloning,” though they were willing to support a four year moratorium on the practice in the hope alternatives not involving cloning could be developed. At least one additional member (Charles Krauthammer), though opposed to the deliberate creation by cloning of embryos for research in which they would be destroyed, supported the revocation of President Bush’s funding restrictions on the use of embryos that had been produced by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes, but were left unused in cryopreservation units in assisted reproduction facilities.

George goes on to ask if we will see the same kind of intellectual diversity on the next Council. If not, it does not take a genius to predict what kinds of conclusions the new Council will come to.

-The right to abortion will be declared to be unbounded and will be funded.

-Embryonic stem cell research will be funded and pressed forward regardless of the utter lack of real-world results.

-Therapeutic cloning will be encouraged to the point of allowing the creation of human embryos for destructive and cloning purposes.

We may not need to hold our breath, but we need to be alert to what may come down the pipe.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus - 1936-2009

The death of Fr. Neuhaus is a very sad thing for Christians in the public square. The long time editor of First Things and author of the always-anticipated “The Public Square” stood squarely for the orthodox core of the Christian faith in all of life. In a culture that (more often than not) mindlessly dismissed the power and relevance of the Christian worldview, Neuhause stuck out as its incisive and winsome defender.

His death has surprised me in how much it has moved me. I was not aware of the cancer that took him, and so I took the arrival of my journal subscription a little for granted. To me, he was a paragon of cultural engagement. As a pastor, I do a degree of that on a regular basis, but Neuhause was “always on.” He knew his world extremely well, he knew his theology and Christian conviction just as well, and he knew how to talk about the two deeply and seamlessly.

My prayer is that his role will be filled by many others. An individual can never be replaced, but they can certainly act as examples and guides. Right now, in a culture that is as unsympathetic to the Christian faith as our is, we need more and more thoughtful and provocative champions of the faith.

I will miss Fr. Neuhause.